Questions For Reflection

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You might want to read Pastor…Are You Reading Too Much of The Same Thing? before you go further.

In my office next to big comfortable chair I sit on when spending time with God is my stack of quiet time tools. I have a Bible, a notebook for journaling, and a notebook for writing my prayers. I have a small pad of paper to write things down that I don’t want to forget, things that might pop into my mind and distract me. In addition to these, I always have a book I am reading devotionally for spiritual formation. Some of these books are considered spiritual classics, and some of them have been written by contemporary authors who focus on the inner life. Francis Bacon wrote, “Some books are to be tasted, others are to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

Over the years there have been many books that I have chewed and digested for the purpose of spiritual formation. Here are some examples:

  • A Monk’s Alphabet by Jeremy Driscoll
  • The Seeking Heart by François Fénelon
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  • Devotional Classics, Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith
  • Any volume from the Rekindling the Inner Fire series edited by David Hazard
  • Shepherds Balm by Richard Earl
  • The Wisdom of the Desert arranged by Thomas Merton
  • My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
  • A Simple Path by Mother Teresa
  • The Essential Wisdom of the Saints edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi

For the really, really serious reader:

  • Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Avila
  • Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross
  • Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by Jeanne Guyon

My two favorite books on the spiritual disciplines:

  • Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
  • The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg

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My favorite spiritual writer of all time is Thomas Merton. In all my years of reading, no single writer has had more influence on my spiritual formation than Thomas Merton. Merton said, “For there are people one meets—in books and in life—with whom a deep resonance is at once established” and their books “open up a new road” for you. For some reason, Merton has been one of those people for me. If you are unfamiliar with Merton, the book Seeds, edited by Robert Inchausti, is a great introduction to his writings, and is, in itself, a great book to use devotionally. I always recommend Seeds to those who want to start reading Merton. When Merton was alive he endorsed A Thomas Merton Reader for those interested in getting to know him and his work. Both are excellent introductions.

***

Here are some helpful questions to ask to determine if a book is a spiritual classic, or a spiritual-formation-focused book, that can serve the inspirational category of reading:

Does this book have anything to do with church growth, church management, pastoral skills, philosophy of ministry, biblical commentary, Greek or Hebrew word study, or leadership development? If so, it’s not what I’m talking about.

Does this book have an obvious focus on spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines, personal intimacy with God or going deeper in one’s relationship with God? If so, then it probably is what I’m talking about.

Is the book trying to make you more knowledgeable or more spiritual? If the focus is more on education than formation, then it’s not what I’m talking about.

Is the author still living? If so, then there’s a 50/50 chance it’s not a spiritual classic.

Questions for reflection:

  1. Do I read more for education, recreation, or inspiration?
  2. What type of input do I need more of: education, recreation, or inspiration?
  3. Which books on the recommended reading list have I read?
  4. Which books on the list would I be interested in reading?
  5. Which of these could I buy today?
  6. What’s stopping me from buying it?

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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Never underestimate your ability to offend, and never forget that people are easily offended and sometimes we can be easily offensive. You put those two things together and you’ve got trouble.

In part one we answered these two questions:

How might I limit the times I offend others?

What should I do if I have discovered that I have offended someone?

Now lets continue with:

What should I do when I have been offended?

First of all, welcome to the club. Unless we as pastors learn how to deal constructively with being offended it will be impossible for us to stay the course and finish well. The word ‘offensive’ can be translated ‘stumbling block’ and all pastors have skinned knees and stubbed toes. Having said that…

  • Prayerfully ask the Father how you might have contributed to the relational breakdown between you and the person who has offended you.
  • If there is any way in which you have been wrong then humbly make restitution.
  • Can you think of anything the Father might want to teach you by allowing this offense?
  • Prayerfully ask the Father if you are overreacting or have misunderstood the person?
  • Bring your feelings of offense to the Father and wait upon him for peace and healing.

Some final thoughts about people who we’ve offended:

I was once told, “An offended person can never really be a loyal person.” I know that sound pretty pessimistic and seems to discount the ability of Jesus to change a person’s heart but apart from a ‘heart-change’ I think I would agree.

It takes a really mature Christian to truly walk away from offense and embrace trust and faith in the person that offended them. Plus, some people are offended and they don’t realize it. But eventually, like poking a sleeping dog, something is going to poke them and their going to wake up and bite you.

Almost all relational conflict can be traced back to an offense. Most church splits can be explained by somebody (usually the pastor, and usually unintended or unknown by the pastor) offending somebody, the person offended doesn’t deal with it in a mature way, so it builds and builds and builds until it erupts in division.

Be cautious about putting someone in a leadership position if you had a serious disagreement with them in the past and it was never really addressed and dealt with. If a person was offended once they probably will be again. Few people really deal with their offense and move on unaffected by it in the future.

A good friend and great pastor in southern California, Steve Mason of Oasis Church, emailed me with a fascinating tidbit:

“I didn’t want to put a long post on Facebook so I’m emailing you. I saw your post about offense.  The Greek word for offense is the word “scandalon”.  It’s where we get the English word scandal from.  Interestingly enough, the small metal piece on a mouse-trap where you put the cheese is called a scandalon.  The picture is obvious … offense is a trap.  If you take the bait and become offended, you are the one who ends up being trapped.”

I couldn’t help but turn this around by thinking about how many churches have been trapped in stunted growth, conflict, and disunity because of one or two offended people in the church who slowly spread their toxic attitude throughout the fellowship.

(Excerpt from Never Underestimate by Dave Jacobs)

 

 

 

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Never underestimate your ability to offend.

People are easily offended and sometimes we can be easily offensive. You put those two things together and you’ve got trouble.

The writer of Proverbs put it this way, “It would be easier for you to break into a fortified city than to regain the trust and loyalty of someone you have offended.” (Proverbs 18:19)

I know, I know, some of you might be thinking, “But speaking the truth will offend people. The gospel is offensive: I Corinthians 1:23 and Galatians 5:11. Besides Jesus offended people: Matthew 13:57 and Mark 6:3.”

That’s not the type of offense I’m talking about.

I’m referring to offense that is not necessary, offense that could be avoided. There is an offense that comes because we’ve said or done something stupid or insensitive. Why would I want to offend someone if I didn’t need to? If I need to I need to but If I don’t why would I want to? Four times I am told to avoid offending or placing a stumbling block before someone: I Corinthians 8:9 and 10:32, II Corinthians 6:3 and Romans 14:13.

I remember listening to a pastor at a conference say, “The only way not to offend people is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.” The people around me burst into applause and cheers but I could not help but think that some had interpreted this as permission to offend.

Some pastors offend because they have been offended and this is their way of striking back. I wish Paul hadn’t said not to return evil for evil, but he did. (Romans 12:17)

Despite our greatest efforts, offense will still happen. However, how might I limit the times I offend others?

Ask yourself these four offense-limiting questions:

1. How might my words or actions offend this person?

2. Do I care if I offend them?

3. Should I care if I offend them?

4. Can I achieve my objective in a way that might be less likely to offend?

A good rule to live by: If you have to ask yourself if what you’re about to say or do will be offensive…it will probably be offensive.

What should I do if I have discovered that I have offended someone?

1. Resist the temptation to become defensive and justify your actions.

2. In prayer and quiet reflection ask the Father to show you how you contributed to the offense.

3. Apologize without any explanations or qualifiers. Examples of poor apologies:

“I’m sorry that you were offended but…”

“I apologize but…”

A good rule to live by in regards to apologizing: If you use the word ‘but’ you’ll come off as a ‘butt.’ What’s an example of a good apology?

“I’m sorry that I…” PERIOD! Stop right there! Don’t say another word!

You might be saying to yourself, “Yeah, but it wasn’t all my fault. They needed to hear this.” You might be right. But you will probably have an opportunity to revisit whatever it is you think they need to hear. Do your best to clear the air and approach the matter another day in another way.

A good rule to remember: An offended person will not objectively listen to anything you have to say to them until after, and maybe not even then, the offense has been cleared up.

(Excerpt from Never Underestimate by Dave Jacobs)

 

resting

Someone once said, “I’ll have plenty of time to rest when I get to heaven.” That might be true and not resting just might get you there quicker.

When one pastor was challenged about his sixty-hour work week he said, “Well I’d rather burn out than rust out.”

Me? I’d rather do neither.

Let me ask you a few questions.

  • Do you have more than one day off a week?
  • Do you work more than forty hours a week?
  • Are you out of the house at ministry related things more than two nights a week?
  • How many hours of sleep do you get each night?
  • Do you observe a personal Sabbath?
  • How many weeks a year do you take off for vacation?
  • Do you have a consistent and meaningful devotional life?
  • How often do you get away along with your spouse?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = lowest) how stressed do you feel?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 how busy do you feel?
  • Does your spouse feel you are working too little, too much, just right?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 how much margin is there in your week, your month, your life?

I hope you do get to rest once you get to heaven, but your loved ones don’t want you to get there prematurely. It’s better to neither burn out or rust out. What adjustments could you make in your life to move you towards greater rest? What small thing could you start with?

I can help you become a better pastor in less time.

 

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I was recently asked by 200churches.com to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. What you’re reading is the fifth in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of rejecting a culturally imposed definition of success.

(The following is an excerpt from my book, ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: soul care for busy pastors…and the rest of us.’)

“The western church defines success almost exclusively by numbers, i.e. how many were in attendance, and how much was in the offering?

There were times when I didn’t look forward to hanging out with pastors because I knew that eventually someone was going to ask me, “So…how are things going at your church?” This question is usually the way one pastor finds out if they are more or less successful than another pastor.

If my church was growing (which was seldom) then I didn’t mind answering their question. If my church was not growing (which was often), I asked to be excused, said something about the stomach flu, and ran out the door.

Seriously, it didn’t matter how many good things were happening in my church, I didn’t really feel successful if my church was in decline or had plateaued for a long period of time. Someone could have been raised from the dead and I’d be thinking, “That’s nice, but that church down the street, the one that is bigger than us, they’re more successful than we are.”

I like to challenge pastors to sit down with their leaders and discover ways to define success in their church that have very little to do with size or numbers.

There’s a difference between wanting to have success and needing to have success in order to feel good about yourself and your church. We need to detach from the need to be thought of as successful.”

Rather than asking questions like, “How large is my church?”, try answering questions such as:

Am I being faithful to my family?

Am I being faithful to my call?

Is my church healthy?

How will I determine if my church is healthy? (This is a topic I will be dealing with in a later post.)

What percentage of my church is involved in some sort of ministry?

Do my people seem to be growing in their relationship with Jesus?

Is there joy when my people gather?

Are my people inviting new people to church or other related events?

What are we doing to reach new people?

Are my people generous with their time, money, and gifts?

Can you think of any other questions?

I know you’ve been told, “All healthy things grow and reproduce.”, but this isn’t always true. I work with many healthy churches that are small, that are not growing, that have plateaued. My experience has been that you can have a healthy church that isn’t growing and you can have a unhealthy church that is growing.

When you talk to pastors in countries that have not been affected by our western brand of Christianity you soon discover that they are not very concerned with numbers like we are.

It’s important that we are able to recognize what are culturally imposed expectations for us as pastors and for our churches, and what are Biblically imposed expectations. These can be, and often are, different.

 

 

conference

Here’s a frustration I hear all the time from pastors returning from a church conference.

“It was good but the main speakers all had big churches and most of what they said didn’t relate to our size church.”

I bet you’ve experienced that. I know I did many times when I was pastoring. And it’s not just the main-session speakers. It’s not unusual for those leading workshops to have churches much, much larger than the majority of those attending.

This isn’t a problem if the speaker is talking about soul-care, sermon-crafting, dealing with conflict, etc. subjects like these. But if the speaker is advising on how to run your church or grow your church, there’s a good chance his/her advice is not going to fit in your situation.

So where then does the pastor of a smaller church go for ideas that work? Well of course there’s me. 😉

But seriously, here’s an idea that will work Let’s say you have a church of 50. Let’s say you’re trying to figure out how to have a quality children’s ministry with few volunteers and resources. Do this. Find the pastor of a church twice your size. You have 50 so you’re looking for a pastor with 100.

Take them out to lunch or buy them a cup of coffee and ask them, “When you were our size how did you provide a meaningful children’s ministry with few volunteers and resources?” I can almost guarantee that this pastor will have far more ideas that might work for you than the pastor of 1000.

It would be interesting for denominational planners of church conferences to try this. If 70% of the pastors attending your conference have 100 or less people in their church then have 70% of your speakers be pastors of churches with 100 or less. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

altar

Remember ‘altar-calls’? Some churches still have them. Others still have them but call them something different. An altar-call was an invitation for people to come forward and accept Jesus, or repent, or do some sort of business with God. The idea was that in coming forward you were approaching God in that moment of time. Now hold that thought.

Altar-moments alter motives. Pastors need altar-moments to reveal their true motives. Sometimes our motives are good and sometimes our motives need to be altered. Often times the line between the two is very, very thin.

For example, why do we want our church to grow? I know the correct answer is, because we want to reach the lost. But is there any other motive mixed into that? Do we want our church to grow so that we can pay our operating expenses? Do we want our church to grow so that we will feel good about ourselves or so that our peers will think of us as successful? Why do we want people to follow our leadership or submit to our pastoral authority? Why do we do and want what we do and want? Are our motives good or not so good? It’s not always easy to know. That’s why altar-moments alter motives.

As we approach the altar in silence and solitude we position ourselves to have our motives revealed. We join hands with David and pray…

“Search me, O God, and know my heart ; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

I think it’s natural, and possibly unavoidable, to have mixed motives. Most everything is a mixture of Spirit and flesh. But if we can recognize poor motives and make the necessary adjustments we will experience the push of the good rather than the pull of the not so good. Never underestimate your ability to think your motives are pure when in fact they are not.

Altar-moments alter motives. Is it time for an altar-call?

 

 

advice

Think of how often you give advice. It’s what pastors do. We are professional advice-givers. Our preaching is filled with advice. Our pastoral counseling is filled with advice. The meetings we lead are filled with our advice.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jesus gave advice. The writers of the NT gave advice. Advice-giving is not wrong it’s just, for many pastors, a default, something we revert to automatically.

When advice-giving is our default there is a good chance that we will not be listening deeply to the person who has come to us but instead only half-listening while formulating our response (advice) to be given as soon as the person will let us get a word in.

When advice-giving is our default we fail to help those who come to us learn to think for themselves.

When advice-giving is our default we reinforce in others a dependency on us rather than God. It’s easier for them to come to us and get advice rather than prayerfully seek God for his advice.

When we give advice we’re playing God.

  • What if our default was not advice?
  • What if our default was to ask great questions that helped our people think for themselves?
  • What if the advice we gave to those who come to us for advice was, “Spend the next week in prayer and we’ll meet to discus what you discovered.”
  • What if the advice we gave to those who come to us for advice was, “Spend the next week studying the scriptures to see if the Bible has any advice of it’s own for you? Then let’s get together and you can share with me what you found.”
  • What if we gave advice as a last resort rather than a first resort?

What if we stopped playing God all the time?

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There is a difference between church growth and church health. I believe you can have church health without church growth and church growth without church health.

The Church Growth Movement experts told us, “All healthy things grow and reproduce.” But that’s not always true. I’m healthy but I’m no longer physically growing. A woman can be past the age to conceive but we would not say because of this she is not healthy. It’s not that there isn’t any truth to, “All healthy things grow and reproduce.”, it’s just that it’s not always true. And…when you apply this to church growth, i.e. “Since all healthy things grow and reproduce, then healthy churches will grow and reproduce.”, you begin to get into trouble, the saying begins to break down.

I’ve been coaching pastors and consulting churches for seven years now. Some of my clients have healthy churches that are not growing and some of them have unhealthy churches that are not growing. And don’t get me started with the strange phenomenon that occurs occasionally when you have an unhealthy church that is growing.

At the beginning of any coaching relationship I make sure the pastor understands that I am not a “church growth” guy but that I’m a “church health” guy. I explain to them that one of the things I’m good at is helping pastors and their leaders identify saboteurs of growth.

There are things we can be doing or things we’re not doing that can sabotage growth. In other words, it’s hard enough to grow a church, let’s not help the hard out. I make clear to the pastor, however, that we can identify saboteurs of growth, correct them…and there still is no guarantee that the church will grow.

So then, why bother?

We bother because we want to have a healthy church whether it’s large or small. And certainly no one argues that an unhealthy church is unlikely to become a growing church. At the same time, we do not want to use “church health” as just another gimmick that we hope, or assume, will result in church growth.

Think of church health, or even church growth for that matter, as the water behind a dam. The water is there, all you need do is blow up the dam. Sit down with your leaders and kick around the question, “What might there be in our church that is damming up the water? What might be blocking the flow of health or growth? Or, lead your team into a discussion of, “Are there things we’re doing or not doing that might be sabotaging church health or church growth?”

Come up with your list of saboteurs. Prioritize your list and start working on improving those things. Maybe you don’t have enough dynamite to blow up the dam. Maybe all you can do is chip away at it a little at a time. Any movement, no matter how small, that moves you towards health rather than away from it is good.

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And now for a lesson on pearls.

Did you know that pearls owe their existence to irritation?

The pearl is a product of some species of oysters and other shell-fish, formally called bivalve mollusks. A pearl is formed when irritants become lodged in the soft tissue inside an oyster’s shell, and, to protect itself, the oyster produces a coating for the irritant. This coating, called nacre, builds up in many thin layers and creates an iridescent cover over the irritant. The resulting product is a pearl.

Natural, or wild pearls, are very rare and, therefore, much more expensive than cultured or manufactured pearls. Natural pearls result from a piece of sand accidentally implanting itself into the oyster. A manufactured pearl is one that has been pried open and a small piece of shell is implanted (an irritant), the oyster is closed back up and then in about six months, voila…you’ve got a pearl!

What is currently irritating you? Is it circumstances beyond your control? Is it a person you work with, live with, go to church with? Who or what is your source of irritation?

I wonder how often irritation is random, and how often it is by design. Like the manufacturer of cultured pearls, God often times pries us open and implants an irritant in order to produce a pearl. It might take a while to discover the pearl, and of course, we can spit the irritant out and miss the pearl all together.

I have come to believe that inside every irritation is a potential pearl.

Now go back to the source of irritation that came to mind a few moments ago. Ask yourself:

  1. What might the Father be trying to say to me through this irritation?
  2. What lesson might God be attempting to teach me from that irritating person?
  3. Are there any ways that I might have contributed to the problem?
  4. I wonder who it is that I might be irritating?
  5. Is there anything I can do about that?

 

 

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